The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado & Wim Wenders, 2014)

The world renowned photographer Sebastiao Salgado has produced some of the most vivid and provocative images of man’s inhumanity. Certainly at the top of this list would be his series of pictures at a gold mine in Brazil depicting countless numbers of drenched, filthy and exhausted workers seeking both a livelihood and their fortune. As Salgado himself says in a commentary, the scene could have come right out of the building of the giant pyramids. In many ways, mankind is no more advanced – perhaps even less advanced — than it was thousands of years ago.

In this deeply personal documentary, Salgado describes his craft. The manner in which he would settle into a distant community and document these unknown lives, whether it is dispossessed community in the northeast Brazil where child mortality was seemingly a daily event, to the massive starvation in Ethiopia in the early 1980s. No matter how cruel the image displayed, one watches this film in complete awe, not only of Salgado’s work but also our cruelty to one another. But it was Salgado’s work in Rwanda that profoundly changed him. After documenting the country’s genocide and its cruel aftermath in the teeming refugee camps, he found that he could no longer go on with his life’s work, or at least what had been his life’s work. Salgado and his wife return to Brazil and they begin to live on the farm that he was raised on, now fallen into disuse and overcome with a drought that has killed virtually all living things. But this man who has seen and documented all manner of human despair literally brings his farm – and himself – back to life.

Mark Gibney

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